We often take our eyesight for granted but this story might change that. Justin Salas was only 14 when he lost his sight almost completely and was declared legally blind. Now 22, the ambitious young man is a living example that nothing is impossible – Justin has become a professional photographer and skilled rock climber.
Justin’s blindness didn’t happen overnight, his eyesight had always been poor and he had to wear glasses since age 5. Nevertheless, during his freshman year of high-school, his vision starter rapidly deteriorating and hiss glasses were of no use. Tests later shower that his optic nerves were dying and they didn’t know how to help him.
A doctor at the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City, one of the best eye clinics in the country, told Justin’s parents that the condition was psychological and he should just go home and relax. After a whole year of scans and blood tests, doctors gave him the ambiguous diagnosis of “optic neuropathy of unknown origin” and shattered his world when they told him it was incurable.
At first, he pulled away from the world, he wouldn’t speak, all he did was look at the computer screen because he could still recognize familiar shapes and letters. One day, his close friend Beau Johnson asked him if he wanted to ride a bike. Justin’s peripheral vision was still intact and what he couldn’t see in front of him, Johnson alerted him about. His family called Beau “seeing-eye person”, because he let the blind boy know about approaching cars and obstacles in his path, giving him enough time to swerve.
You don’t have to see to climb, you only have to feel
Then, another friend invited Justin to a rock climbing gym, telling him that “You don’t have to see to climb, you only have to feel.” The boy took him up on the offer, and he has been climbing ever since. Some of the boulders are as high as 50 feet, and in case of falls – of which there are many – Salas can only rely on a couple of mattresses positioned strategically bellow and spotters who make sure climbers don’t hit their head or fall of the mats.
His friends are an important part of climbing since they tell him things like “Handhold one o’clock, Justin! One o’clock” from down below.
“The process is feeling all the holds and having someone tell me where the holds are,” Salas says. “Then I feel every shape of the hold, which direction it goes. I start memorizing and putting pieces together and memorizing how my body feels when I’m in certain positions so I know, whenever I go back to do it again, how it feels. And then I do the route over and over again, even if it takes falling dozens and dozens of times.”
Justin has scaled many high-level boulders and even landed several sponsorships, including chalk company Friction Labs
Although he doesn’t hide his blindness, Justin never brings it up either. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard him tell one person he’s blind,” climbing partner Cory Hayes told The Washington Post. “He doesn’t come across blind. He does things like — when you’re talking to him, he’ll look you directly in the eye on purpose so you won’t know he’s blind.”
Apart from rock climbing, he is also a professional photographer and has his own freelance photography business, specializing in adventure shots, brand photography and landscapes. He claims this new passion gave him a way “to see through my vision loss.” To frame his shots properly, Justin uses his other still working senses – the sound of his subjects’ voices, the warmth and angle of the sun on his body and his memory from when he could still see.
Even though he can’t see what he shoots, a 27-inch computer screen allows him to pixelate his photos to the point where he can decipher the contrast of light and dark. Looking at some of his shots, you could probably never guess that the photographer is legally blind. A truly inspirational young man!
Don’t forget to check out his amazing photos here!
H/T to odditycentral